next-upnext upauthorJanko RoettgersNoneDo you know what's coming next up in the world of tech and entertainment? Get Janko Roettgers' newsletter every Thursday.9147dfd6b1
×

Get access to Protocol

Will be used in accordance with our Privacy Policy

I’m already a subscriber
Power

Samsung and Hulu are giving up on 360-degree video, but VR producers have other plans

360-degree video drove early VR headset adoption. Now some companies are shutting down their VR video apps.

Three people use Samsung Gear VR headsets.

Samsung stopped selling Gear VR last year, and now it's removing its Samsung XR app from VR app stores.

Photo: Xavier Leoty/AFP via Getty Images

Samsung is done with VR video: The company will remove its Samsung XR app, which aggregated 360-degree videos from publishers like CNN and The New York Times, from VR app stores Tuesday. The removal comes a week after Facebook stopped selling its 360-degree-video optimized Oculus Go headset, and a few weeks after Hulu announced that it would shutter its own VR video app on most platforms.

This retreat may suggest that 360-degree video is dead, but Colum Slevin, Facebook's director of AR/VR media, isn't quite ready to say goodbye just yet. "We're still very much in the business of helping 360 creators," he told Protocol last week.

Slevin admitted that there is a clear pull toward more immersive content that goes beyond 360-degree video. "The future of VR is about delivering on the actual promise of VR," he said, referencing immersion and interactivity, as well as the ability to actually lean or step into an experience, something that is known in the industry as 6DOF, short for six degrees of freedom. "The future is 6DOF," Slevin said.

Samsung is in many ways emblematic of the evolution of the VR industry. The consumer electronics giant released the very first mass-market VR headset that combined a simple viewer with a mobile phone, the Samsung Gear VR, in 2015. The company also built out its own VR video service, first branded Milk VR and eventually renamed to Samsung XR, with the goal of combining 360-degree videos from professional publishers and amateurs alike in a YouTube-like environment. And when the industry moved from lower-end phone-based VR goggles to PC VR, Samsung released a number of gaming-ready VR headsets under the Samsung Odyssey brand.

More recently, Samsung has been retreating from VR. The company officially stopped selling Gear VR last year. Its HMD Odyssey headsets are sold out, and the decision to sunset the Samsung XR app signaled that the company is taking a break from the medium altogether. "After years of industry innovation in the immersive content space, Samsung XR is ending service across the web, mobile app and VR headset platforms," a spokesperson told Protocol via email. "We continue to explore the potential of other exciting applications of mobile AR and volumetrics technologies."

While Samsung has been getting out of the VR business, Facebook has doubled down with the release of the gaming-focused Oculus Quest headset, which seems to be resonating with consumers: Quest owners spent more than $100 million on VR content since the release of the headset in May 2019. Gaming in particular has become so successful on the platform that Facebook has been snapping up VR game studios left and right, including Lone Echo maker Ready at Dawn Studios last week. Still, even Quest gamers watch videos on their headsets. "Users are not monoliths," said Slevin, adding that Facebook has seen video viewing remain "a steady overall percentage" of headset usage.

360-degree video pioneer Felix & Paul Studios has seen similar trends. "I guess gamers are people, too," joked co-founder and Creative Director Paul Raphaël. The studio, whose past VR productions include a documentary about the Obama White House, a nighttime tour of Detroit narrated by Eminem, and multiple Cirque du Soleil films, has seen solid usage on the Quest and is about to rerelease its entire catalog as part of a dedicated app for the headset. "The Quest is just as good if not better than the Go at playing 360-video content," Raphael said.

Baobab Studios CEO Maureen Fan also argued that lower-end headsets will see continued usage for some time to come. "There are still millions upon millions of people who are interested in VR but don't have access or can't afford to buy a top-of-the-line headset," Fan said. "360 content still has a place," she said, arguing that it was especially valuable in nursing homes, schools and other environments that may not be suited for high-end VR.

Baobab is known for Pixar-quality animated VR films, and the studio has gradually added more interactivity and immersion to its projects, which includes using hand controllers and other high-end VR technology. "At the same time, we want to tell great stories and have as many people experience them as possible," Fan said. "We are always going to look for ways to give a version of that story to as many people as possible, whether that is 360, interactive VR or more-traditional viewing experiences."

Raphael also argued that not every story may lend itself to interactivity and lean-in immersion. "I believe cinematic VR has a long and exciting road ahead," he said. "It is hard to imagine everyone wanting their immersive storytelling to be interactive." Still, Felix & Paul Studios is going with the times and about to announce its first-ever VR project with six degrees of freedom soon, according to Raphael.

Ultimately, high-end immersion and interactivity are just different ways to tell stories, argued Slevin, who compared this moment of transition from early VR headsets like the Oculus Go to the Quest to the emergence of digital filmmaking technologies: "It all comes down to how compelling the content is."

Protocol | Fintech

Plaid’s COO is riding fintech’s choppy waves

He's a striking presence on the beach. If he navigates Plaid's data challenges, Eric Sager will loom large in the financial world as well.

Plaid COO Eric Sager is an avid surfer.

Photo: Plaid

Eric Sager is an avid surfer. It's a fitting passion for the No. 2 executive at Plaid, a startup that's riding fintech's rough waters — including a rogue wave on the horizon that could cause a wipeout.

As Plaid's chief operating officer, Sager has been helping the startup navigate that choppiness, from an abandoned merger with Visa to a harsh critique by the CEO of a top Wall Street bank.

Keep Reading Show less
Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Signal at (510)731-8429.

Sponsored Content

The future of computing at the edge: an interview with Intel’s Tom Lantzsch

An interview with Tom Lantzsch, SVP and GM, Internet of Things Group at Intel

An interview with Tom Lantzsch

Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corporation

Edge computing had been on the rise in the last 18 months – and accelerated amid the need for new applications to solve challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic. Tom Lantzsch, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corp., thinks there are more innovations to come – and wants technology leaders to think equally about data and the algorithms as critical differentiators.

In his role at Intel, Lantzsch leads the worldwide group of solutions architects across IoT market segments, including retail, banking, hospitality, education, industrial, transportation, smart cities and healthcare. And he's seen first-hand how artificial intelligence run at the edge can have a big impact on customers' success.

Protocol sat down with Lantzsch to talk about the challenges faced by companies seeking to move from the cloud to the edge; some of the surprising ways that Intel has found to help customers and the next big breakthrough in this space.

What are the biggest trends you are seeing with edge computing and IoT?

A few years ago, there was a notion that the edge was going to be a simplistic model, where we were going to have everything connected up into the cloud and all the compute was going to happen in the cloud. At Intel, we had a bit of a contrarian view. We thought much of the interesting compute was going to happen closer to where data was created. And we believed, at that time, that camera technology was going to be the driving force – that just the sheer amount of content that was created would be overwhelming to ship to the cloud – so we'd have to do compute at the edge. A few years later – that hypothesis is in action and we're seeing edge compute happen in a big way.

Keep Reading Show less
Saul Hudson
Saul Hudson has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, especially in understanding and targeting messages in cutting-edge technologies. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, in helping companies to build passionate audiences and accelerate their growth. Hudson has reported from more than 30 countries, from war zones to boardrooms to presidential palaces. He has led multinational, multi-lingual teams and managed operations for hundreds of journalists. Hudson is a Managing Partner at Angle42, a strategic communications consultancy.
Protocol | Policy

Far-right misinformation: Facebook's most engaging news

A new study shows that before and after the election, far-right misinformation pages drew more engagement than all other partisan news.

A new study finds that far right misinformation pulls in more engagement on Facebook than other types of partisan news.

Photo: Brett Jordan/Unsplash

In the months before and after the 2020 election, far-right pages that are known to spread misinformation consistently garnered more engagement on Facebook than any other partisan news, according to a New York University study published Wednesday.

The study looked at Facebook engagement for news sources across the political spectrum between Aug. 10, 2020 and Jan. 11, 2021, and found that on average, far-right pages that regularly trade in misinformation raked in 65% more engagement per follower than other far-right pages that aren't known for spreading misinformation.

Keep Reading Show less
Issie Lapowsky
Issie Lapowsky (@issielapowsky) is a senior reporter at Protocol, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University’s Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing. Email Issie.
Transforming 2021

Blockchain, QR codes and your phone: the race to build vaccine passports

Digital verification systems could give people the freedom to work and travel. Here's how they could actually happen.

One day, you might not need to carry that physical passport around, either.

Photo: CommonPass

There will come a time, hopefully in the near future, when you'll feel comfortable getting on a plane again. You might even stop at the lounge at the airport, head to the regional office when you land and maybe even see a concert that evening. This seemingly distant reality will depend upon vaccine rollouts continuing on schedule, an open-sourced digital verification system and, amazingly, the blockchain.

Several countries around the world have begun to prepare for what comes after vaccinations. Swaths of the population will be vaccinated before others, but that hasn't stopped industries decimated by the pandemic from pioneering ways to get some people back to work and play. One of the most promising efforts is the idea of a "vaccine passport," which would allow individuals to show proof that they've been vaccinated against COVID-19 in a way that could be verified by businesses to allow them to travel, work or relax in public without a great fear of spreading the virus.

Keep Reading Show less
Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.

People

WhatsApp thinks business chat is the future — but it won't be easy

From privacy policy screw-ups to UI questions, can WhatsApp crack the super-app riddle?

WhatsApp Business is trying to wrap shopping around messaging. It's not always easy.

Image: WhatsApp

At some point, WhatsApp was always going to have to make some money. Facebook paid $21.8 billion for the company in 2014, and since then, WhatsApp has grown to more than 2 billion users in more than 180 countries. And while, yes, Facebook's acquisition was in part simply a way to neutralize a competitor, it also knows how to monetize an audience.

The trick, though, would be figuring out how to do that without putting ads into the app. Nobody at WhatsApp ever wanted to do that, including co-founders Jan Koum and Brian Acton, who reportedly left Facebook after disagreements over ads. More recently, even Mark Zuckerberg has slowed the WhatsApp ad train, with The Information reporting that ads in WhatsApp likely won't come while the company's under so much regulatory scrutiny. So: $21.8 billion, no ads. What to do?

Keep Reading Show less
David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editor at large. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

Latest Stories